Each year, the Big Ten holds its preseason media event in Chicago, and each year, Lloyd Carr and three handpicked Wolverines show up to talk about having a special year, atoning for the shortcomings of the previous season, and making sure that the rising seniors leave UM with a legacy of which they can be proud.
That was all true again this year, although the haunting shadow of last year's abomination still engulfs the program in a darkness not easily warded off with the shining light of preseason optimism. And not even Carr and his players could pretend otherwise.
"Part of being a champion is, even when things aren't going your way, to keep the focus, to keep the confidence, that it takes to fight your way out of adverse situations,'' Carr said. "One of the great things about coaching at Michigan and playing at Michigan, is the expectations, the pressure. It's also one of the toughest things.
"We're all disappointed. There is nobody in our program who is happy with the results.''
The tone was different from the past, when both the coach and his players sometimes stubbornly insisted on only looking forward, an approach that seemed to attract more attention to the negative rather than defusing it.
That said, I am always leery about buying into the August Michigan rhetoric of determination and resolve and attitude. We hear and read such ultimately empty declarations each year; it's as though Patrick Ewing were a twentieth-year senior. And thus, despite notions that:
To keep doing what you're doing until it doesn't work any more.
Every program has ups and downs. One year after 4-7, Penn State was a defensive stop away from the national title.
And the last time folks were grumbling this much around here, Michigan was going into the 1997 season.
"We were coming off four four-loss seasons, and there were a lot of things being said and being written that weren't fun to listen to,'' Carr said. "That team did something about it.''
Maybe this one will, too. In August, every fall is an unwrapped gift; that's why we keep coming back.
As is my custom, I will believe all this when I see an improved product on the field. But it is a positive start that the rhetoric of the late summer has come in new packaging, adorned with an acknowledgment of the legitimate problems that need addressing.
Media day was largely uneventful save for news about Antonio Bass. Lloyd said that Bass will soon be undergoing some sort of test that will largely inform if he will ever play football again. But Antonio Bass's father intimated that said "Do You Have a Future in Athletics?" test was already moot:
TheWolverine.com again used the Big Ten Media Expo to produce one of its more popular annual features--the one in which an anonymous play from an opposing team gives an honest assessment of Michigan. The most notable answer given by the player who scouted the Wolverines' offense ($) regarded play calling:
"They are probably one of the easiest teams to scout, in terms of formations and knowing what they're going to run. Maybe last year with the injuries they didn't have superior personnel to everyone else and that caught up to them. But when they're healthy they can get away with it, if they do have superior personnel. They can run it down your throat. It will work. But with the injuries they maybe could have done a better job mixing stuff up."
As for defense, the most interesting answer given was probably this:
"Ohio State had that quality about them last year that even before you stepped on the field you knew it was going to be a long day. I don't know if they'll have that same respect this year because of what they lost. With Michigan, they've got the athletes to shut us up, but until they go out and do it this year everyone is going to think they can have success against them."